I like the way Ole Miss fans think. Among the many beliefs the University of Mississippi's rabid football fans subscribe to is: "We may not win every game, but we've never lost a party."
Like the "grovers" in Oxford, Miss., on game day, my husband and I love to entertain. Every occasion, significant or trivial, is considered special, and an opportunity to celebrate another of life's milestones with loved ones -- and with plenty of food and spirits, too.
Some parties are more intricately planned than others. But regardless of their scope, our expectations for basic courtesies in return, rooted in our own polite upbringings, never change.
Social graces are about much more than knowing the difference between the butter knife and the pickle fork. No piece of silverware alone, sterling or silver-plated, can communicate that. Those tines are essential tools at most special occasions, but it is the acts, or omissions before, during and after the big event that really do "manner a lot."
Receiving an invitation is a big deal, no matter if it's engraved, studded in hot glue-gunned rhinestones, or on Xerox paper. Don't set it aside and forget about it. Tell me you're coming. Hundreds of dollars in beverages, food and party rentals might be on the line, not to mention the host's sanity. Unless you are Michelle Obama or the Duchess of Cambridge, you don't need a social secretary to do this for you.
It really is as easy as one-two-three: receive, note it, respond.
I wasn't at the Kennedy-Kerr nuptials last summer (I didn't receive an invite) where Taylor Swift unknowingly crashed the affair with her then-boyfriend, a Kennedy cousin. But unexpected guests are as welcome as ants and food poisoning. Special occasions, like wedding receptions and Bar Mitzvahs, aren't come one, come all parties. Just because you are in between relationships doesn't mean you should bring your office mate because you don't want to attend by yourself.
Don't ask if you can invite other people either. Invites that say "and guest" mean a boyfriend, girlfriend, partner or spouse, or "significant" other -- not a warm body to fill an empty chair.
If you are sending invitations, give guests plenty of notice. Social calendars, in high season (yes, even in Bakersfield) fill up quickly. Putting yours in the mail the week before is a waste of postage.
"That" guest: Jim Beam, Jose Cuervo and Johnny Walker are popular guests at many events. They aren't high-maintenance and don't take up much room. But they can turn celebrations into nightmares. Remember the movie "The Wedding Singer?" Don't give a speech of any kind if you've consumed the entire contents of your hotel room mini bar. It isn't likely to be well-received, or worse yet, can cause irreparable damage.
If you're having any second thoughts about an action's propriety, don't do it!
Party favors: A lot of planning and expense goes into special celebrations. Just because you're included doesn't give you entitlement to centerpieces, or the extra party favors lying around. Leave them. And always reciprocate. What goes around should come around. If you are always a taker and never a giver, your party days will end soon.
Gift giving: The absolute best gift you can give a host or hostess is your punctuality. Seriously, be on time. As for giving something you can wrap -- if you go, you give, period. Don't show up empty-handed.
These days, registries aren't just for brides and grooms. Many stores offer "wish lists" for customers. Save yourself the hassle and buy from the registry, unless you are gifting a family heirloom.
"Thank you" notes: When the festivities are over, don't neglect a "thank you" note. Not a text. Not an email. A good, old-fashioned handwritten note with a few sentences acknowledging the gesture and the gift. It takes less time to write and address the note, add a stamp and mail it than it does to download songs onto your iPod. Sure, a lot of people don't do this time-honored tradition. Be the exception, especially if you are raising children. They won't grow into gracious adults if you don't bother to teach them by example.